The pecan nut is a fruiting body produced by the hickory genus of plants. In a culinary sense, the term pecan refers to a particular type of nut often used as either a topping or a snack in many dishes across the world1.
Because pecans are considered organic produce owing to their plant origins, it is not uncommon for them to spoil after some time has passed. While this period of time is significantly longer than that of other fruiting bodies, it is still best to preserve your pecans in order to prevent spoilage and waste.
Pecans can be frozen with only a minimal loss of quality, though freezing them is largely unnecessary if you plan to consume the entirety of the pecans within several months. However, should you have purchased a significantly large volume of pecans or only use them sparingly, it is best to either refrigerate them or freeze them using the proper storage procedures.
The exact length and stability of your pecans in freezing storage conditions will depend on many factors, such as whether they have been toasted, whether their shell has been removed and even whether they have been encased in sugar or otherwise salted.
What is Needed to Freeze Pecans?
Freezing pecans is relatively easy in comparison to storing other types of fresh produce in your freezer.
Since pecans consist largely of lipid macromolecules and are generally low in water content, they can freeze quite well with very few steps taken in order to preserve their quality. This is also the reason why bacteria and fungi usually have some trouble colonizing most kinds of nuts.
In order to freeze your pecans, all that is required is several resealable plastic pouches or freezer bags, a plastic or glass storage container, several sheets of tissue paper and a freezer capable of reaching temperatures at or below 32°F.
How to Freeze Pecans
When choosing to freeze your pecans, it is best to use pecans still present in their shells or otherwise pecans that have been toasted and coated in salt or candied, as the extra layers of insulation however small will help prevent freezer burn, extending the length of time the pecans will retain their quality.
To begin freezing these nuts, first wash them under a running tap in order to dislodge and dirt or dust that may still be present from the farm. This step is largely unnecessary if the pecans have been coated in salt, sugar, or are otherwise still present in their shells.
Once washed, allow the pecans to dry as much as possible by laying them spread across a dish cloth or towel. Allow any minute amounts of moisture on their surface to evaporate by leaving the pecans at room temperature for up to twenty minutes.
Now dry and clean, pile the pecans evenly in the resealable plastic pouches or freezer bags. Only place enough nuts in the bag so that they may produce a flat plane within the bag, which will make thawing them far easier.
It is best to separate the batch of nuts by your preferred serving size, as repeatedly removing the pecans from the freezer and returning them will impact their quality and shorten their shelf-life.
Now individually bagged, place the pouches of pecans in a second container, this time made of hard and freezer safe materials such as flexible plastic or glass. This second container will both protect the nuts from mechanical damage as well as freezer burn, both of which will affect their quality and shelf-stability.
Keep the double-insulated pecans in the darkest and deepest part of your freezer, only removing the individual bags instead of the entire batch. Keep the container away from any freezer fans or vents, as these may cause condensation or freezer burn, even with two layers of storage insulation.
Stored in the best possible conditions and never removed from the freezer, the pecans will last for up to two years without spoiling.
How Do You Return Frozen Pecans to their Original Quality?
In the event that your pecans have degraded in quality either from improper freezer storage procedures or simply because they have been left at cold temperatures for too long a period, returning them to their original quality is quite easy.
First allow the pecans to thaw completely, as this process may still leave the center frozen if they are not completely defrosted.
Once thawed, place the pecans in a toaster oven or range oven at the lowest possible temperature, coating them lightly in salt so as to draw out any moisture that they may have absorbed during the thawing process. Leave the pecans in the oven for up to five minutes or until they have returned to their usual brittle texture.
How Can You Tell If Pecans are Good?
While it is true that pecans have a remarkably long shelf-life in comparison to other organic produce, they are still perfectly capable of spoiling, and as such it is best to inspect your pecans prior to consumption in order to avoid food poisoning or an unpleasant meal.
Generally, pecans that have begun to spoil will often present a visual sign, such as discolored patches or odd growths. These are often colonies of fungal life forms that have managed to establish themselves on the nuts, and as such necessitate that the pecans be disposed of.
It is best to dispose of the entire batch of pecans if they have been stored in the same environment as the spoiled pecans, since it is likely that fungal spores have contaminated the entire container.
If the pecans also emanate a rancid or otherwise sour odor, it is likely that the fat compounds within the nuts have begun to oxidize or have otherwise been colonized by microscopic bacteria, of which both causes can produce toxins that will make humans sick if consumed. Throw these pecans away as well.
As always, we advise against tasting your pecans to see whether they have gone bad or not, as this is dangerous and generally an unwise decision.
Can You Refrigerate Shelled Pecans?
Although pecans, especially in their processed form, are considered relatively shelf-stable even at room temperature, a marked degradation in their flavor, aroma and texture is often noted in the event that they have been stored in the improper environment or conditions.
In this case, simply using any commercially available refrigerator capable of reaching temperatures at or below 40°F will act as a perfectly acceptable storage method for shelled pecans.
In order to ensure that the relative shelf-life of the shelled pecans is extended for the absolute longest time possible, it is best to ensure that they are completely dry and free of dirt or insects. If so desired, you may wash them under a cool stream of water before allowing them to dry on a cloth towel at room temperature.
Whether you have washed them or not, place the pecans in a resealable air-tight plastic pouch in order to insulate them from the odors and moisture of your fridge environment. As an added precaution, you may place the resealable bag of pecans in a second container, which will also protect them from mechanical damage such as crushing or falling.
Stored in the best possible conditions within your refrigerator, the pecans can last for up to ten months at temperatures of 35°F2.
How Long Do Unshelled Pecans Last at Room Temperature?
Like most other nuts, pecans can last for quite a bit longer within their shell than they ordinarily would if removed from this outer husk. This is due to a variety of factors, but primarily is caused by the fact that the toughened layer of shell insulates the seed from environmental factors that may degrade its quality as well as prevents bacteria and fungi from encroaching on the inner seed in large numbers.
As the general range of room temperature is primarily between 68-72°F, this section of the article will focus on an average room temperature of 70°F, or approximately the temperature of a kitchen environment in most temperate climates of the world.
Still in their shells and stored in the proper container, unshelled pecans can last for up to six months without spoiling, though a possible degradation in their quality may occur sooner than this point in time.
Ensure that the shelled pecans are stored in a dry and air-tight container, of which should be placed in a cool room free of direct sunlight or other forms of light that may affect the pecan’s quality.
1. “Carya illinoinensis”. Germplasm Resources Information Network (GRIN). Agricultural Research Service (ARS), United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
2. John Pyzner, David Picha. (N.D.) “STORAGE HINTS FOR PECANS” Louisiana State University Agricultural Center Louisiana Agricultural Experiment Station